What did our life look like before house meetings?
I can tell you that our household was full of tension. People would yell up and down the stairs to get each other’s attention. We would ask each other about things while we were busy, and get annoyed with each other for interrupting our respective trains of thought.
As currently structured, our house meetings include sharing our lists of concerns; each person gets to share one concern they have per turn. Our lists are not equally long, but the topics concern everyone to some degree. They include things like who is going to cook when, getting help with a computer program, setting up time to do something fun, what to do with a pair of old boots in a shared space in the house, etc.
In the case of the boots, the soles were shot, and I was ready to put them in the trash, but they had meaning for my daughter. I put them on my list of things to discuss when we met. I did not accost her in the middle of the day. I did not throw the boots in the trash. I did not think about them anymore, because I knew the issue would be addressed.
My daughter understood immediately I did not want them in the front hall. So she willingly took them up to her room and put them in her closet. That was the end of that problem. Hurrah! It was so simple and could have been such a mess!
We talk about more than practical things. We also share, often at the start of a meeting, something we are feeling good about in our lives; it helps to start on a positive note. And we might talk about feelings or long-term planning, to keep our lives and our family on track.
The key elements are that we all attend, that we agree to a starting time, and that we meet often (sometimes daily) to handle the many small and larger things for the smooth(er) running and emotional health of our family.
House meetings offer a time and a place for everyone’s voice. I think children as young as eight or 10 have thoughts and feelings they would like to share with others in their family. I find this a respectful way to engage everyone and to figure out our lives during this time of enforced togetherness.
Claudia Apfelbaum, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in NW Philadelphia. She works with individuals, couples and families and runs a group called “In the Time of Corona.”